Oh, June… and learn how your damn camera works.

Hi kids.  I have been up to a ton of stuff recently.  In no particular order:

And, I have also learned a lot about how my camera works.  Shocking, right?  Well… not really.

I had some weird experiences with my gear at one of the local bouts.  The lens that I primarily use for roller derby is a Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor ED 70-200mm f/2.8G IF.  That is a whole lot of letters and words but it basically means it’s a big lens with a wide maximum aperture and vibration reduction.  One of the things, incidentally, that seems quite useless now is vibration reduction.  I was noticing my lens “jumping” when I was shooting, the optics reacting weird, etc.  I thought maybe my lens was getting to the point where it needs service.  You do occasionally have to send them in for service, you know.

Then I found this link:  Nikon VR explained

Cue light bulb over head.  VR has an engage time that kicks in after you engage the shutter.  This could slow stuff down.  And it is trying to correct for movement of the camera that probably won’t affect the shots I am taking, because I either have the shutter speed cranked up with the flash in FP mode, or I am using a bank of remote speedlights.  In that case the shutter speed is whatever the speedlight’s t.1 duration is (usually well over 1/800, or stepped down maybe 1/1000 or even faster).  VR isn’t really doing much there.  So I shut it off.  I was pleased with the results.  It is still a very good lens, but the VR feature may prove to stink for derby.

Then I found this guide:  Nikon D3 Professional Technical Guide.  It explains how various autofocus and other settings really work in higher end Nikon cameras.  It is largely applicable to D300/D300s/D700 shooters as well.  Some of it even filters down to lower end Nikon bodies, and a bunch of it is probably applicable to Canon and other brands as well (but the various stuff will be called something else).  For example, I had my autofocus hunt time cranked down really low.  That means that the camera would be as fast as possible when choosing autofocus targets.  Except that’s not really what I want – it turns out I want it to be less aggressive, so it will be better at sticking to one player if I’m trying to focus on them, etc. instead of bouncing around.

Also, my camera has 51 autofocus points.  Why not use them all?  Well, because, dummy, that will make the camera bounce around to any of those points it thinks are interesting.  I am not a good enough photographer (or, maybe I am not patient enough) to use hyperfocal distance and zone focusing and give up on the autofocus for sports.   So I stepped it down.  I’m not trying to discern the details between a butterfly on a leaf, I am trying to get someone in focus for a soul-crushing hit instead of the dude in the suicide seats with a beer-amid in front of him who dropped down to the side to catch a view of the hit himself.

I posted these to a group of photographers that I know and a lot of them were also surprised to learn that, like me, they thought they knew how their camera worked but actually didn’t.  You might refer to these links, or seek out similar information about your camera.  They are a lot more focused (ha ha!) than the manual, which Nobody Actually Reads Anyway because it’s like 2000 pages of boring warnings about not using your speedlight during a gas leak, etc.  It’s amazing the difference that a few settings changes can make.


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